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Yoga for Digestion

Digestion plays an important role in the absorption of nutrients. The digestive process allows our bodies to break down much needed nutrients in a way that allows one to properly absorb and utilize them. Yoga can help with one’s digestive process through specific poses and breathing techniques.

One of the main breathing techniques that every yogi should master is Ujjayi Pranayama, which means the victorious breath. This type of breath allows the diaphragm to move in a manner that stimulates one’s digestive organs.

How to Perform Ujjayi Pranayama:

Begin by taking a nice, long exhalation to allow the lungs to rid themselves of any stale air. Next, take a nice, long inhalation. Visualize the lungs filling with air, starting from the bottom and working its way up to the rib cage and then the chest. Notice the chest expanding. Then slowly begin to exhale, feeling the air begin to leave the body through the throat. Notice how the chest begins to fall. At the end of the exhalation, pull the stomach into the spine, further expelling the breath. Once the breath is being taken in meaningful, long inhalations and exhalations, begin to make the breath audible. To do this, close the mouth, exhale through the nose and restrict the back of the throat causing a deep sigh sound to come from within. While it may sound silly, this sound is often compared to the breathing noise made by Darth Vader in Star Wars or the sound of the ocean waves crashing along the shore.

In addition to assisting with digestion, this breathing technique acts as a tool to help keep one focused in their yoga practice. If at any time one’s mind starts to wander, bring the attention back to the breath.

Poses to Aid in Digestion:

Cat (Marjaryasana) and Cow (Bitilasana) Sequences

Cat and cow poses, when used together, create flowing movements that easily coordinate with one’s breath. When used with one another, they help warm up the spinal muscles and release tension. Releasing tension is important as it can interrupt one’s digestive process. The cat and cow poses encourage circulation to one’s abdominal organs, which in turn, will assist in digestion.

To perform the cat/cow series begin by coming to all fours in a tabletop position. When in this position, the knees should be directly under the hips with the tops of the feet on the mat and the hands directly under the shoulders with both palms placed firmly on the mat. On an inhalation, let the belly hang, dropping it towards the mat while lifting the tailbone. Lift the head and look to the sky. Keep the arms straight and draw the shoulders down the back. This is cow pose. On an exhalation, arch the back towards the ceiling and look towards the belly, head down. This position is cat pose. Perform this series 5-10 times, with one cow and one cat counting as one repetition.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

Bridge pose stimulates and aligns the abdominal organs. Keeping abdominal organs in proper alignment allows for efficient digestive functioning. This pose also supports the thyroid gland, which assists with both digestion and metabolism.

To perform this position, begin by lying flat on the back. Bring the heels of the feet in towards the buttocks while keeping the feet flat on the mat. Take care that the knees should be bent and about hips distance apart. Position the palms down on the mat alongside the hips. On an inhalation, press the palms firmly into the mat and lift the hips towards the sky. Activate the glutes and thighs to sustain a lifted position. Once elevated, and if wanting to increase the pose, bring the arms underneath the body, bringing both hands together and interlacing the fingers. Continue to press the shoulders firmly to the mat. Notice whether or not the buttocks are tensed- if they are, soften them and use the strength of the upper thighs to maintain the pose. Lengthen the tailbone towards the calves and lift the heart towards the sky. Practice this pose while practicing Ujjayi breath for 30 seconds. To release from this pose, exhale and slowly roll down the spine- vertebra by vertebra until the body is flat on the mat. Rest for 5-10 breaths and then repeat this posture 5 times.

Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Twists, in general, are great for digestion because they squeeze the inner organs allowing toxins to be expelled. Likewise, when one releases from a twist, the organs refill with fresh, healthy blood.

To perform a supine twist, begin by lying flat on the back. Bend the right knee and hug it in towards the right armpit region. Try to avoid compressing the ribcage. Hold the right knee in this position for several seconds, then take the left hand and place it on the outside of the right knee, drawing the knee across the body and to the left. Place the arms at the sides- either stretched out or in a cactus position. Keep the right shoulder down flat on the mat and gaze to the right. Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths. To release from the pose, bring the right knee back across the body to center and hug the knee into the chest. Switch legs and directions to complete the twist on each side.

To optimize digestion, these poses should be performed daily.

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